Last Monday, I got my COVID vaccine; the full effects should be kicking in soon. How should I change my behavior? How should anyone?
One popular answer is: Not at all. Why not? The top reason I’ve heard is: Because even those of us who have been vaccinated can’t be absolutely sure we won’t be infected – or spread infection to others. Some use the same reasoning to argue that people who have recovered from COVID shouldn’t change their behavior either. As immunologist Alexander Sette puts it:
Not taking any precautions—including wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing, or getting vaccinated—after an initial coronavirus infection is comparable to “driving a car where you’re 90% sure the car has brakes.”
However, both common sense and economic reasoning virtually the opposite. If a risk falls by 90%, and there are large gains to accepting the risk, you should not only accept more of the risk; you should probably accept much more risk. This is what self-interest recommends; and when your risk-taking benefits others, this is what humanitarianism recommends as well. Remember: Your social distancing doesn’t just harm your quality of life; it harms the quality of life of everyone who doesn’t have the pleasure of your company.
What about the “90% sure the car has brakes” argument? This posits an lopsided scenario where you have a 10% chance of killing or seriously injuring others for a trivial reason. You shouldn’t die with 100% probability to see a movie; neither should you die with a 10% probability to see a movie. Anyone who has ever driven to a movie, however, has accepted a .0000001% chance of dying en route. And doing so is both prudent and considerate. Or to tweak the hypothetical, it would be perfectly reasonable to drive regularly even though there is 10% chance that your brakes will go out sometime in the next twenty years of driving.
The better argument against changing your behavior – or at least not changing it much – is that we still don’t know
make you lonely; it makes people who would have interacted with you lonely as well. make both you and other people lonely. insofar as your risky activities benefit others, it is also what accept much more risk.